“Occupied” by Joss Sheldon is a three-part fiction that takes place in a colony setting. Inspired by the real life political situations of Palestine, the Kurdish question and Tibet, Sheldon creates four main characters and revolves the book around their lives and the political events that surround them into three parts.
The book revolves around the lives of four protagonist characters from their childhood; Tamsin, Arun, Ellie and Charlie. Tamsin is a refugee who lost her home when the settler state of Protokia was founded; Arun was a child when he and his family moved to Protokia after suffering immense persecution in what was once their home country; Ellie was from the occupied territories that were not formally annexed as a part of Protokia, but still endured settlements; and Charlie is a native that moved to Protokia as an economic migrant. The settlers and natives are divided into two religious groups; the settler colonialists are the Holies and the natives are the Godlies.
Despite the fact that Sheldon wrote this book as a fictional novel, it was very noticeable that he was inspired by the countries he dedicated the book to. This wasn’t just displayed in the stories of the characters, but also with the names of political resolutions, and even quotes from religious books.
One example was the usage of a verse in the Godlie’s book, “if you save a life, it is as though you have saved the whole of mankind,” which is a paraphrased translation of a verse in the Qur’an. There is also the instance of UN Resolution 194 promising the Godlies their right to return, again inspired by the UN General Assembly Resolution 194, which promised the Palestinian right to return to their homelands.
The author makes clever use of nouns throughout the book. Generic global brands like Starbucks and Burger King, Boots and Marks and Spencer appear in the book but with their names altered. The KPP, which is the armed movement of the Godlies is also inspired by a real life movement, the Kurdish PKK militant group. By sustaining elements of reality in the book, it gives the message that the events of the book are not far from reality. It shows the occupation Sheldon is portraying in “Occupied” is not buried within the parameters of a fictional dystopia and is heavily inspired by real political events.
The fact that the brands were mentioned in the last part of the book, in which Protokia becomes an ultra-capitalist dystopia in which the bank is portrayed as a God-like figure carries a lot of political significance. The use of the distorted names of these brands has been inspired by the way in which we lead our lives in the modern capitalist world.
Repetition is a literary device that is much used in the book. At some points it worked, but at other points the effect of the repetition was weakened, which came as a result of its excessive use. The first time I noticed the repetition was when both Ellie and Arun’s fathers referred to Tamsin as a “dizzy-eyed midget” and a “creepy elf” on separate occasions. This was when Tamsin was still a child refugee and her presence was politicised by the fathers of her friends for different reasons.
At that point, the use of repetition felt uncanny, but as the use of repetition continued, it lost its effect. At some points, things were repeated over three or four times within the book, which risks causing the reader to skim over the repeated text rather than attracting their attention to a wider variety of literary devices.
At other points when the repetition was subtler and thus did not feel as excessive, it gave the appropriate effect to the reader. Throughout the story, an old lady would feature at random points as a passer-by and make predictions. Every time she made a prediction, she would be met with the very same resistance, using the exact words. In many ways, she reflected the subconscious of the characters, forcing them to face the inevitable truth they were hiding from. It is also a reflection of today’s society and symbolic of our constant denial of unfolding events.
The portrayal of the characters was also significant because the reader is able to witness the four protagonists grow up. The vast majority of the family members of the protagonists did not have names, rather they were referenced in relation to the character (for example Papa Arun or Brother Arun). This kept the focus on the protagonists themselves.
However, at some points, I felt the book was moving too fast and had an equal amount of emphasis on the events and characters. Because of this, to an extent, it was hard to form a proper connection to the characters. Within each part of the book, each character was allocated a chapter in which events were being told from their perspective. The chapters described clearly what was happening during the lives of the characters, but not as much was dedicated to how they felt.
Arun was one of the more interesting characters to follow. He entered Protokia with his family and sought to be kind to everyone he meets, as he promised the old lady who gave him refuge when the Holies were being persecuted. He was then subject to peer-pressure by his peers and family members, who mocked him for showing sympathy to the Godlies. This made him go through points of surrendering to the pressure, which was portrayed through his own emotional journey.
Whilst I despised Arun for allowing those around him to change his character and empathy towards the Godlies, I still could not help but sympathise with him because his actions were being portrayed through his internal battle. The fact that Sheldon gave Arun many layers added dimension to the book. It showed that just because there is a clear face of evil, just as in real life, it doesn’t necessarily mean the events and situations that come within this evil concept are strictly patent.
Overall, “Occupied” was an interesting read that would mainly be suitable for teenagers or young adults (albeit with the presence of sexual themes). The concept is a brilliant one and it gave out a simple, but strong political message. Though at many points it was over-indulgent in repetition and it was hard to form a strong connection with the characters which could have easily been remedied if the book was longer and took more time to describe surroundings and reactions after major events, it remained a good read. The way it was written meant that even if someone has no pre-existing knowledge of Palestine, the Kurdish question and Tibet, they would have still enjoyed it and still understood the reasoning behind the anti-colonial and anti-capitalist sentiments behind the book.